It was the kind of gaffe that makes the boredom of a Fifa weekend worthwhile. As Sepp Blatter unveiled the new poster design for the 2010 World Cup on Friday, the 71-year-old Fifa president went off-script in a way that made even the automaton Swiss bureaucrats who run his organisation exchange glances of complete horror.
The poster features the profile of an African face that looks up towards a football, on the northern part of an outline of the African continent. "You will recognise this face," prattled Blatter, "he did not play at the last World Cup but he is a very famous African footballer who plays in Barcelona." Blatter thought it was Samuel Eto'o, except he was wrong. Eto'o is Cameroonian, and the designers of the poster did not base the face on any one player – let alone a player from outside the host nation of South Africa.
For an organisation that prides itself on its vice-like grip on the world's greatest sporting event, it was a rare slip: Planet Fifa has descended on the east coast city of Durban to stage the usual jamboree. On Friday night it took over the beach for a party for delegates and media that cost R3m (£200,000); last night was the glitzy preliminary draw at the city's exhibition centre. The speeches have been tedious; the meetings endless and the Fifa blazers have buzzed around doing their best to look busy.
Yet for all this, the uncomfortable preoccupation of anyone who wishes to look beyond the Fifa bubble is how the World Cup will affect life for the majority of South Africa's 43 million population, of whom more than 5 million live with HIV/Aids. On Friday night more than 1,000 police were drafted in effectively to shut down the beachfront area – to ensure none of the Fifa delegates fell victim to the crime culture in a nation which averages 50 murders a day. On Saturday, the Soweto derby between the country's two biggest teams – the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates – was transplanted to Durban for the benefit of Fifa.
Generally, the locals have watched at a distance with interest, but how much will they be involved in three years' time? Blatter talks a good game about the unifying power of football, but there is no doubt that the priority will be to put on a show for the world that vindicates the decision to give the tournament to Africa for the first time. To judge by the amount of security planned for 2010 – 31,000 police dedicated to the event – Fifa is still a little scared about what Africa may hold in store.
The country does have a serious crime problem which, in Johannesburg especially, has shown no signs of getting better. The organisers are nervous about it and in 2010 whole areas of cities will be shut down in order to protect fans, delegates and media. In private, South Africans can be pragmatic. It is a sad truth that, historically, apartheid gave their security forces a certain expertise in keeping one group of people away from another. It is an expertise that they may call upon in 2010.
By far the most interesting aspect of their preparations are the "category four" tickets. They are low-price tickets for 15 to 20 per cent of every game which will be available only to South African residents and will cost between R20 and R150 [£1.30 and £10]. It is a laudable idea, but one fraught with problems. There is no plan yet as to how they will be sold to South Africans, many of whom have no access to the internet. There is also the prospect of touting, which will be a huge temptation for low-income workers. Privately, the 2010 committee admits that if just 10 per cent of crowds are local people the system will be judged a success.
Fifa is also "raising" £5m to build 20 football centres across Africa to open before the World Cup, which is a joke when you consider that the organisation spent £120m on its- lavish new headquarters outside Zurich. More interesting is the decision to build dedicated training grounds, where national teams will be based during 2010, in townships. The 2010 consignment of English WAGs could find themselves based near their loved ones in Soweto; or the Mamelodi or Atteridgeville townships in Pretoria.
It is a brilliant idea and one that, should England qualify, the Football Association could lead the way on. The 2010 committee is worried that the big nations will base themselves in the luxury hotels instead of the townships. What a message it would send if, instead of a five-star country residence, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard were based in Soweto, with training sessions open to a South African public that loves Premier League football.
The FA delegation arrived on Friday without a name recognisable outside Soho Square – and it showed. At Saturday's Sowetan derby in Durban, the dignitaries met the players before the game. Germany sent Franz Beckenbauer (Der Kaiser meets the Kaizer Chiefs). From France there was Michel Platini and Christian Karembeu. And from England? Er, Sir Dave Richards – some bloke who used to run a middling engineering company in Sheffield, now the Premier League chairman.
It was frankly embarrassing and showed more than ever how England and the FA are crying out for a famous ex-player as a figurehead; a role that – despite his faults – David Beckham will be perfect for one day.
For the 2010 organisers there are problems behind the scenes, most specifically with the building schedule of two new World Cup stadiums. The Cape Town and Port Elizabeth projects are, according to who you listen to, behind schedule. It led to a rather unseemly announcement from Blatter, who said that he promised the construction workers on World Cup projects a "bonus" if they stopped strike action.
The actual logistics of the tournament will have to wait, but we know that games will kick-off at 1pm, 4pm and 8pm – just one hour ahead of London – and there is a proposal to allow teams to play all their group games in one city. The message is that South Africa will get there, come what may, although there is evidently still a lot to come.Reuse content